Point-to-point or Hub-and-Spoke

Friday, 30 December, 2022 - 2:15 pm


Ever since moving to Northwest Arkansas in 2005, I discovered the one hope on top of every local frequent – and not-so-frequent – traveler’s wish list: Get Southwest to fly to XNA.

It is no secret that XNA isn’t a cheap travel destination and the fact that we have no low-cost airlines serving us doesn’t work in our pocketbook’s favor. However, this week was the first time I was actually happy I couldn’t book a Southwest flight for my son headed back to Yeshiva after Chanukah break. The mess which the airline went through was one of record proportions and we all know someone that has been affected.

While many of my friends and relatives claim it is their lifeline to the world, I knew very little about Southwest as I rarely travel with them and I was curious what has caused specifically this airline to suffer such a fallout from last week’s weather event, significantly more severe than any other airline, including those infamous for their poor performance.

I learned that Southwest operates on what the airline industry calls a ‘point-to-point’ route system vs. the hub-and-spoke route system that most major US carriers operate on. Meaning, most airlines operate to and from major hubs, vs. Southwest that flies many short and mid-range routes point-to-point, without connecting through a major hub. While there are pros and cons to each system, when delays and cancelations occur, there’s one big difference. So for example, if American Airlines is your airline of choice, if you ever get stuck somewhere, it is likely CLT, ORD or DFW; cursor:pointer;background-position-x:50%;background-position-y:100%">mikveh (ritual bath) in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood stood at the foot of a steep mountain. When the slippery weather came, everyone had to walk all the way around for fear of slipping on the mountain path and breaking their bones—everyone, that is, apart from Rabbi Meir, who walked down that path whatever the weather, and never slipped.

One icy day, Rabbi Meir set out as usual to take the direct route to the mikveh. Two guests were staying in the area, sons of the rich who had come somewhat under the influence of the “Enlightenment” movement. These two young men did not believe in supernatural achievements, and when they saw Rabbi Meir striding downhill with sure steps as if he were on a solidly paved highway, they wanted to demonstrate that they too could negotiate the hazardous path. As soon as Rabbi Meir entered the cursor:pointer;background-position-x: 50%;background-position-y:100%">tzaddik with his question: why was it that no man could cope with that treacherous path, yet the cursor:pointer;background-position-x:50%;background-position-y: 100%">Rebbe never stumbled?

Replied Rabbi Meir: “If a man is bound up on high, he doesn’t fall down below. Meir’l is bound up on high, and that is why he can go up and down, even on a slippery hill.”

On a nice day we can all climb mountains; but when the path is covered in ice, no normal person will climb the mountain unless they are ‘connected’ and harnessed. For a Tzadik, their level of connection to G-d is so intense and powerful, that no ice on earth can make them slip. G-d is quite literally holding their hand.

But I don’t think Rabbi Meir was trying to impart mountain-climbing lessons to his student. I think he was trying to relay that it is essential for a Jew to be ‘connected above’ so they don’t slip below when challenges arise.

Let me explain: I often say that it’s easy being Jewish in Jerusalem or Brooklyn; there are large communities, minyans at any time of the day or night, kosher restaurants galore and a hundred people providing each and every Jewish service imaginable. In Arkansas, however, it isn’t a given; living a solid and meaningful Jewish like requires resolve, commitment and a willingness to take initiative and ‘make it happen’.

Similarly, in our personal lives and regardless of our geographical whereabouts, we all experience moments of ‘Jerusalem’ – Times when things are good, the coast is clear, there is bread on the table and harmony in the home. Moments when we are not faced with any challenges, be it financial, emotional, medical or social (and of course, our kids do exactly what we want them to, every minute of every day).

But every so often a winter storm erupts; things aren’t so smooth in one area or another, the winds are gusting and the roads are covered in thin black ice. We are scared to take the next step, unsure whether it will lead us to safety or land us in a cast for the next few weeks.

It is specifically about moments like these that Rabbi Meir was talking about. The only way to safely traverse trying times is via a solid and strong connection.

In the world of Chasidism there’s a term called ‘Hiskashrus’. In its literal sense it means being connected to the Rebbe. For the chosid, being attached to his or her Rebbe, always learning from him and seeking guidance and direction to illuminate and clarify their path, so they know what to do and what not to do, and make sure the next step is taken on solid ground. Chasidim also rely heavily on their connection to each other, especially since the time the Rebbe has passed away. We draw on each other for strength, support and even an occasional word of rebuke, looking out for each other and making sure we are not slipping on icy roads.

Point-to-point route systems, where you take one task and one step at a time, each independent of the other; focusing only on what’s at-hand right now, might work well when the weather is calm and the sun is shining. But when the clouds are grey, and a wrench is thrown at us, that’s when we need a hub. We need a central place where we can anchor, and an ability to connect with others in our shoes. When we are in a central location, with others in a similar struggle and devoted to a common theme gives us comfort and allows for our collective resources to be pulled together and get us out of the mess quickly.

In today’s day and age we throw around the term ‘climate change’ regularly. I’m no expert on the weather, but as a rabbi, I’ve seen a spiritual climate change quite a bit lately. On the one hand it appears spiritually stormy but at the same time Jews are reconnecting to their roots in greater number than before. Now more than ever, we absolutely need a hub, we absolutely need a community and we absolutely need each other so we can rely on each other.

This is why it is so central to belong to a Jewish community wherever you are. And by belong, I don’t mean pay dues; I mean participate regularly. Just like we don’t suffice with just buying our groceries but we make sure to actually eat, so too must we spiritually consume our Jewish sustenance daily and visit our spiritual home on an ongoing basis. It is only through this central hub that we will be safe when the weather throws a big one.

While Rosh Hashanah was three months ago, the rest of the world celebrates a new year this weekend. Make it your New Year’s resolution to frequent your Jewish hub. We’ll all be there for you and for each other.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

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